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Saturday 8th April, 2023

The Western Province High Court has released five suspects arrested and remanded for allegedly possessing 196.98 kilos of heroin, seized by the Navy off the coast of Trincomalee in April 2019. The massive drug bust made headlines and everybody was hopeful that the criminals involved in the abortive smuggling operation would get their just deserts, but the High Court has said the charges against the suspects were not proved. Raising concern about the manner in which the investigations had been conducted, the learned judges have said statements made by the police were contradictory.

When charges against someone cannot be proved, judges are left with no alternative but to release him or her. The burden of proof lies with the prosecution, as is public knowledge. This is not the first time a high-profile criminal case has collapsed and suspects have walked free.

Whenever drug lords happen to be netted, crooks in the garb of politicians, corrupt cops and lawyers go into overdrive to have them off the hook. Drug samples sent for testing are tampered with, witnesses threatened and investigations botched up so that the criminal cases are thrown into question. The entire legal system is geared towards safeguarding the interests of lawbreakers, especially wealthy criminals. No wonder the conviction rate is between 4% to 6%, in this country, and drug barons always have the last laugh. It may be recalled that about 20 members of the Police Narcotic Bureau were arrested in 2020 for their involvement in drug trade and collaboration with international drug cartels. Drugs, illegal firearms and fake currency notes were seized from their possession. This shows how compromised some law enforcement officers are.

There are many good cops who put their lives on the line to fight crime, especially the drug menace. The Navy is leading the country’s drug war from the front, and its officers and men are going out their way to prevent dangerous drugs from finding their way into the country. The release of suspects arrested for narcotic smuggling has a devastating impact on the morale of the police and Navy personnel who toil for weeks, if not months, to seize drugs and make arrests. Nothing hurts them more than to see drug barons they nab walking free and cocking a snook at them. The demoralisation of these intrepid officers and men takes a heavy toll on the country’s fight against the scourge of narcotics.

The circumstances that led to the collapse of the aforesaid narcotic case must not go uninvestigated. A thorough probe must be conducted to find out what caused some police officers to make contradictory statements and why the prosecution failed to prove the charges against the suspects.

When dangerous criminals such as drug barons manage to wriggle free in suspicious circumstances, those who are believed to collaborate with them have to be probed, prosecuted and jailed, if found guilty. Otherwise, it will be well-nigh impossible to make underworld characters pay for their crimes, and Sri Lanka will end up being the narcotic hub of Asia. The shocking failure on the part of the state prosecutors and the police to prove charges against suspects arrested for serious crimes should make the Ministers in charge of Justice and Public Security sit up and take notice, and adopt remedial measures.

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